The Liston laboratory works on regulatory T cells. These are a type of white blood cell that act to suppress the rest of the immune response, preventing spontaneous autoimmune disease and acting as a rheostat to control just how active our immune system is. The number of these cells in our blood goes up as we get old, which may contribute to the immune-suppressed state of older persons. We seek to understand these cells, using both patient material and mouse models, so that we can harness their power to fine-tune the immune system for healthy ageing.
Mucosal barrier integrity and pathogen clearance is a complex process influenced by both Th17 and Treg cells. Previously, we had described the DNA methylation profile of Th17 cells and identified Zinc finger protein (Zfp)362 to be uniquely demethylated. Here, we generated Zfp362 mice to unravel the role of Zfp362 for Th17 cell biology. Zfp362 mice appeared clinically normal, showed no phenotypic alterations in the T-cell compartment, and upon colonization with segmented filamentous bacteria, no effect of Zfp362 deficiency on Th17 cell differentiation was observed. By contrast, Zfp362 deletion resulted in increased frequencies of colonic Foxp3 Treg cells and IL-10 and RORγt Treg cell subsets in mesenteric lymph nodes. Adoptive transfer of naïve CD4 T cells from Zfp362 mice into Rag2 mice resulted in a significantly lower weight loss when compared with controls receiving cells from Zfp362 littermates. However, this attenuated weight loss did not correlate with alterations of Th17 cells but instead was associated with an increase of effector Treg cells in mesenteric lymph nodes. Together, these results suggest that Zfp362 plays an important role in promoting colonic inflammation; however, this function is derived from constraining the effector function of Treg cells rather than directly promoting Th17 cell differentiation.
FOXP3 deficiency results in severe multisystem autoimmunity in both mice and humans, driven by the absence of functional regulatory T cells. Patients typically present with early and severe autoimmune polyendocrinopathy, dermatitis, and severe inflammation of the gut, leading to villous atrophy and ultimately malabsorption, wasting, and failure to thrive. In the absence of successful treatment, FOXP3-deficient patients usually die within the first 2 years of life. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation provides a curative option but first requires adequate control over the inflammatory condition. Due to the rarity of the condition, no clinical trials have been conducted, with widely unstandardized therapeutic approaches. We sought to compare the efficacy of lead therapeutic candidates rapamycin, anti-CD4 antibody, and CTLA4-Ig in controlling the physiological and immunological manifestations of Foxp3 deficiency in mice.
Cognitive decline is a common pathological outcome during aging, with an ill-defined molecular and cellular basis. In recent years, the concept of inflammaging, defined as a low-grade inflammation increasing with age, has emerged. Infiltrating T cells accumulate in the brain with age and may contribute to the amplification of inflammatory cascades and disruptions to the neurogenic niche observed with age. Recently, a small resident population of regulatory T cells has been identified in the brain, and the capacity of IL2-mediated expansion of this population to counter neuroinflammatory disease has been demonstrated. Here, we test a brain-specific IL2 delivery system for the prevention of neurological decline in aging mice. We identify the molecular hallmarks of aging in the brain glial compartments and identify partial restoration of this signature through IL2 treatment. At a behavioral level, brain IL2 delivery prevented the age-induced defect in spatial learning, without improving the general decline in motor skill or arousal. These results identify immune modulation as a potential path to preserving cognitive function for healthy aging.